Making It Count - May 2017

Putting It To Work: New Publication with REEF Data Reveals Link of Caribbean Fish Biodiversity Patterns and Sea Temperature

A diverse Caribbean coral reef. Photo by Daryl Duda.
A marine citizen scientist collecting data for the REEF fish survey project. Photo by Jeffrey Haines.
Map showing variation in numbers of fish species across REEF survey sites. Colors represent survey effort controlled estimates of numbers of species. Figure from Clauson-Kaas et al 2017.

We are excited to share the newest scientific publication that includes data from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The study, published in the Journal of Biogeography, used the power of the people in the form of citizen science to produce a new map of marine fish biodiversity across the Caribbean and tropical western Atlantic.

The work, performed by scientists from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution & Climate in Denmark and the Marine Biological Association, studied REEF’s extensive data base collected by our volunteer surveyors to produce the map and find that fish biodiversity is strongly linked to sea temperatures. However, results also show that while fish biodiversity is higher in warmer waters, the very hottest sites in fact have fewer species than sites with intermediate temperatures, something not shown before in previous studies. These results will be of concern given the rising water temperatures in the region.

This ground-breaking research is based on data collected by thousands of marine citizen scientists working within the REEF program. These volunteers have been recording data on the fish species they see during dives for over 25 years and inputting their records into REEF database. This work has enabled researchers to compare different coral reefs and other coastal sites across this tropical region for the first time. The resulting map shows high diversity areas in the Dutch Antilles and the Florida Keys, whereas relatively few species were found in Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Florida.

In order to examine potential explanations for these patterns, the research team looked at potential environmental factors that might be associated with them, including natural factors, such as temperature, salinity and depth, and human-based factors, such as population density. Analysis proved the number of fish species recorded at a site could be predicted by how warm the water was at that site, and, to a lesser extent, how deep the site was. While a positive relationship between temperature and biodiversity has been demonstrated in previous research of global patterns, the fine-scale detail provided by this huge citizen science dataset facilitated the discovery of important details of this relationship within the wider Caribbean. Senior author Dr Ben Holt said:

"Rather than being a simple relationship, whereby warmer waters equal more fish species, the relationship seen in the REEF data was “hump-shaped”; warmer sites tend to have more species up to an optimal temperature of around 27C and then the hottest sites become less diverse.”

Further analysis suggests that this result may be partly driven by a few species being adapted to the warmest temperatures. The findings of this study will inevitably be of concern given the fast-rising temperatures of Caribbean water, but the research team urge caution extrapolating their results based on future climate predictions. Dr Holt said:

“The efforts of citizen scientists have provided an invaluable opportunity to study spatial patterns of marine biodiversity. Their data suggest that the hottest reefs are not the most biodiverse but it does not necessarily mean that the diversity of any particular site will change as seawater temperatures change. This is an important area for further research given the importance of these habitats within the Caribbean and around the world.”

The full citation of the paper is: Clauson-Kaas, S, K Richardson, C Rahbek, and BG Holt. 2017. Species-specific environmental preferences associated with a hump shaped diversity/temperature relationship across tropical marine fish assemblages. Journal of Biogeography. 2017(00): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13044.

To see a full list of scientific papers that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

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The Faces of REEF: Chuck Curry

Chuck on his home turf in the Pacific Northwest.
Chuck under the water in the Philippines. Photo by Ron Lucas.
Chuck topside on the Philippines REEF Trip in 2016.
A Puget Sound King Crab, the subject of Chuck's close encounter story with a Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo by Janna Nichols.
In addition to volunteering with REEF, Chuck volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium. Here he is as Santa in the big aquarium tank. Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Chuck Curry, a REEF member since 2013. Chuck lives in Washington State, and while he hasn't been a member for long, he has already conducted 400 surveys! He has achieved Level 5 Expert Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), and the Pacific Coast (PAC) regions, and Level 3 Advanced Surveyor status in the South Pacific (SOP) and Hawaii (HAW) regions. Here's what Chuck had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first became a REEF member and volunteer in the spring of 2013. I learned about REEF while at a talk given by Joe Gaydos at the Seattle Aquarium. Joe’s the Science Director at the SeaDoc Society, which conducts and sponsors scientific research in the Pacific Northwest’s inland waters, also known as the Salish Sea. Joe mentioned a ten-year sub-tidal monitoring project SeaDoc would be starting that would use REEF’s Roving Diver Technique and expert REEF surveyors to do the monitoring. I thought, “I want to do that!” I joined REEF after that talk and started conducting surveys.

Have you been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

I’ve been lucky enough to be on a number of REEF Field Survey trips. The highlight of my Field Survey diving last year was getting exposure to the awe-inspiring (and sometimes overwhelming!) fish diversity of the Central Indo-Pacific region on the Philippines and Micronesia Field Survey trips.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

My desire to make a contribution to scientific research inspires me to complete REEF surveys. As a kid, I dreamed of being a marine biologist and Jacques Cousteau was one of my heroes. REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project allows me to fulfill, in part, that dream as a citizen scientist. And I get to experience some of the undersea world that my childhood hero introduced me to when I was growing up in Kansas City.

What do you like most about being a REEF member?

Without question, my favorite part about being a REEF member has been meeting, getting to know and learning from/with all the fun and interesting fish geeks who volunteer for REEF! :-)

Do you dive close to where you live?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a great dive site (it’s “Norrander’s/Rockaway Beach” in the REEF database) 7 minutes from where I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. It’s my favorite place to dive because it’s my “home” site, provides great habitat for all sorts of fishes and critters (including Wolf Eels and Giant Pacific Octopuses) and I can fit in a dive between any two meals at home.

What is the most fascinating creature encounter you have had underwater?

The most fascinating fish encounter I’ve experienced wasn’t with a fish but with a marine invertebrate—we survey a selected list of invertebrates and algae in the PacNW. While taking a picture of a juvenile Puget Sound King Crab, a Giant Pacific Octopus loomed up in front of me and held on to me for five minutes with first two, then four of its arms. It seemed to be curious, running its arms over my light, camera, hands and arms as I watched it and it watched me—just an amazing experience.

Do you have any tips for new surveyors?

I’d offer two tips to other REEF members, particularly to those just getting started. One is to seek ID help from expert surveyors you dive with or meet. I’ve gotten lots of help from folks, they’ve all been happy to share their knowledge and no one has ever made fun of me for getting excited about seeing a very common fish that’s new to me. The second tip is to carry a camera and take pictures while you’re surveying. You don’t need to become an expert photographer, just getting ID shots of new fish to review topside can really speed you along the learning curve.

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REEF’s “The Lionfish Cookbook” named Best in the World at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Lad Akins accepting the award in China from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.
The second edition of "The Lionfish Cookbook."
The 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were held in China in May.
A spread from REEF's "The Lionfish Cookbook"

Competing against thousands of books from more than 200 countries, REEF's The Lionfish Cookbook was awarded Best in the World status in two categories at the 22nd annual Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held last month in Yantai, China. The Lionfish Cookbook was recognized one of the top three books in the world in the categories of Sustainable Food Book and Fundraising/Charity Book. The book had also reached the short list in the Seafood category.

The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook, co-authored by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins with photography by David Stone, features a collection of more than 60 appetizer and entrée recipes designed to encourage the removal and consumption of invasive lionfish. Adding to the original 45 recipes in the first edition, the highly awarded second edition features 16 new recipes from guest chefs serving lionfish throughout the Caribbean. The 160-page book also contains detailed information on the background and impacts of the lionfish invasion and how to safely collect, handle and prepare lionfish. To purchase your own copy of the cookbook, visit REEF's online store at www.REEF.org/store.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are the first non-native marine fish to successfully invade Atlantic waters. Their thriving populations pose a serious threat risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marine life, including commercially and ecologically important species. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of natural predators and their prolific, year-round reproduction.

“Many countries in the affected region are encouraging consumption of lionfish to create a demand and incentive for lionfish removals,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and co-author of the book. Contributing chef Francesco Ferraris, of New Especias Italian Restaurant in Cozumel, Mexico, adds, “From a culinary standpoint, lionfish are incredible. The fish has a mild, white meat and is not too overpowering.”

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were created in 1995 to celebrate global cookbook and wine publishing and feature many world-renowned chefs each year. Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, attended this year’s Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Ceremony in Yantai, China, accepting the award from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.

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2018 REEF Trips Schedule Announced

Belize 2016 REEF Field Survey Trip

In 2018, REEF will visit a vast array of tropical and temperate dive destinations, from the Caribbean, to the Pacific Northwest, and beyond! These Field Survey Trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice surveyors, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow marine life enthusiasts. We also offer several Lionfish Research Trips each year. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each trip features daily educational seminars and a full diving schedule. Check out www.REEF.org/trips!

The 2018 schedule highlights include a Key Largo Field Survey to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, a family-friendly eco-adventure to the mountains, rainforests, and beaches of Costa Rica, a liveaboard trip to the renowned marine park, Gardens of the Queen Cuba, and many great Caribbean destinations. For individual trip details and more info, please visit the links below. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869.

2018 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule

  • Feb. 10-17: Kona, Hawaii - Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, with Janna Nichols -- details
  • April 17-27: Andaman Sea, Thailand – Thailand Aggressor Liveaboard, with Christy Semmens -- details
  • May 1-6: God’s Pocket, British Columbia – God’s Pocket Resort, with Janna Nichols -- details
  • May 12-19: Grenada – Grenada Aquanauts Grenada and True Blue Bay Resort, with Amy Lee -- details
  • May 26-June 2: BahamasInvasive Lionfish Research Trip – Turks & Caicos Explorer II, with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes -- details
  • June 2-12: Fiji – NAI’A Liveaboard, with Christy Semmens -- details
  • June 23-30: Key LargoCelebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project! – Horizon Divers & Marina Del Mar, with Paul Humann -- details
  • July 14-21: Costa Rica – Diving and Mountains Eco-Tour Adventure, with Christy and Brice Semmens -- details
  • Aug 4-13: Fernando de Noronha, Brazil – Atlantis Divers Brazil, with Ned and Anna DeLoach -- details
  • Aug 18-25: BelizeInvasive Lionfish Research Trip – Splash Belize & Pelican Beach Resort, with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes -- Details Coming Soon
  • Aug 18-25: Gardens of the Queen, Cuba – Avalon II Liveaboard, with Christy and Brice Semmens -- details
  • Sept 23-30: St. Lucia – Post REEF Fest Fish Survey Trip – Anse Chastanet, with Lad Akins -- details
  • Oct. 2-16: Philippines – Atlantis Dumaguete & Atlantis Azores Liveaboard, with Ned and Anna DeLoach -- details
  • Nov. 3-10: Cayman Brac – Brac Reef Beach Resort, with Janna Nichols -- details
  • Dec. 1-8: Eastern Caribbean – Special REEF Fish Survey Itinerary – Caribbean Explorer II Liveaboard, with Ellie Splain -- details
  • Dec. 1-8: Cozumel – Chili Charters & Safari Inn/Casa Mexicana, with Tracey Griffin -- details
  • Jan. 6-16, 2019: Maldives – Inaugural REEF Eastern Indian Ocean Region Expansion Trip! – Carpe Vita Explorer, with Christy Semmens -- details
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2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series

REEF Staff taking scientific samples and processing lionfish at a derby.
Invasive lionfish are found to grow much larger in the invaded western Atlantic than they do in their native range of the Indo-Pacific.
Lionfish Culinary Demonstration at a REEF Derby. Photo by Donna Dietrich.

Summer is just around the corner and that means the annual REEF Lionfish Derby Series is almost here! Whether you just want to watch the festivities and taste some delicious lionfish bites, or you want to join the derby and compete with other lionfish hunters for over $3,500 in cash prizes, we have something fun for you. This year, REEF will be hosting four lionfish derbies throughout Florida: Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Key Largo, and Juno Beach. REEF Derbies are hugely popular events that remove hundreds to thousands of invasive lionfish from local reefs over a single weekend. The derbies significantly reduce the numbers of lionfish and help native fishes maintain healthy populations. Find out  all the details on REEF’s 2017 Lionfish Derby Series here: www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.

This year, at the Palm Beach County Derby, in partnership with Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the NUISANCE Group, we are turning the derby into a festival! There will be a kids' craft area, live music, a lionfish culinary competition, and Lagunitas Brewing Company will be providing the adult refreshments. In order to taste the delicious lionfish dishes that our competing chefs will be cooking up, be sure to purchase a VIP Pass on our website!

If you can’t make it to the Palm Beach County Derby, don’t worry, every derby has fun and educational activities for the whole family to enjoy, including cornhole, lionfish dissection demonstrations, and a raffle.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Dates:

    • Sarasota Lionfish Derby – July 7th-9th
    • Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby – July 14th-15th
    • Upper Keys Lionfish Derby – July 28th-29th
    • Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby – August 11th-13th

Check out the REEF Derby webpage for more information. The 2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series is sponsored in part by the Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Whole Foods, ZooKeeper LLC and hosted in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory, 15th Street Fisheries, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

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Great Items Added to the REEF Store

Have you checked out REEF's online store recently? We have added a bunch of great items perfect for the ocean lover in your life! Preservation Creature Puzzles, Hammerhead Bottle Openers, Swell Style Bags from Bungalow360, and Conservation Creature Plushes! Of courese, we also have a great selection of fish ID books, REEF survey supplies, and REEF gear. Visit www.REEF.org/store to see all of our great inventory.

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